There is a lot to be said for the good old-fashioned police procedural of the sort that, in the days before cable, once dominated television.
With its hard-R ways and highfalutin literary ambitions, cable gave us twisted-up complications, as in HBO's "The Wire" or FX's "The Shield," in which the heroes came clothed in the same shades of moral gray as the villains. The actual crime-solving seemed almost beside the point.
NBC's "Chicago P.D.," which premieres Wednesday, is clearly an attempt to return to those simpler times, when a cop show was a cop show and not some Dickensian analysis of the changing social order. A time when crimes were solved through hard-won street intel and stakeouts rather than the insights of a former fake psychic or a ruggedly handsome crime novelist.
Spun off from Dick Wolf's "Chicago Fire," "Chicago P.D.," also a Wolf production, unapologetically wallows in the back-alley chase scenes and low-growl precinct stare-downs so popular in shows like "Hill Street Blues," "Police Story" and Wolf's own formidable weltanschauung: "Law and Order" and "Miami Vice."
So much so that it often unintentionally, and most unfortunately, veers into near-parody. "If I find out you're still playing around out there," the district police chief says to Sgt. Hank Voight (Jason Beghe) minutes into the pilot, "I will personally throw you off a roof."
Through the window, out the door — this is the kind of macho-posturing conversation Voight engages in at least three times an episode; no sissified writer psychoanalyzing here, just threats of physical violence, flecked with heart o' gold moments.
With his bantam stance, black leather jacket and raspy growl, Voight is Just That Kind of Guy. When viewers met him in "Chicago Fire," he was a dirty cop, so bent on covering for his drunk-driving son that he tried to murder "Chicago Fire's" lead, Matthew Case (Jesse Spencer).
"Chicago P.D." leans hard on this "not-your-standard-spinoff material" conceit. For reasons that a child could surmise but that mystify those around him, Voight has been sprung from the slammer and made head of a new Intelligence Unit.
Voight's team looks and acts very much like any homicide department, but apparently it has a special mandate: Get the really bad guys (as opposed to, one assumes, the sort-of-bad guys). This puts the team, and Voight, in constant and tedious conflict with authority, including "da feds."
Voight is unashamed of his strong-arm tactics, which, for the record, absolutely cross the line into abuse. "Tell me the truth so I can lie for you," he tells his team, which includes detectives Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda), Jay Halstead (Jesse Lee Soffer), Erin Lindsay (Sophia Bush), who is something of a daughter to Voight, and, most important, Alvin Olinsky.
Played by the reliably wonderful Elias Koteas, Olinsky is an undercover impresario, which is to say the Belker of the piece. Which is also to say the very best thing about "Chicago P.D." A show about Olinsky might involve fewer threats of forcible defenestration, but it would be a heck of a lot more interesting.
The precinct is also studded with a variety of characters, including a gruff and semi-dirty female desk sergeant and a pair of likable patrolmen, all of whom, along with the rest of the cast and creators, do their level best to remind viewers of why the classic police procedural ruled television for so long.
Unfortunately, "Chicago P.D." is just that — a reminder, a breathy echo of other, much better shows. Many of which are available in affordable DVD packages and on various streaming services.
Me, I think the time has come to binge-watch "Hill Street Blues."
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14-DLV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence)Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times